Thursday, March 21, 2013

Best-Sellers of 2012

What to make of Publishers Weekly’s recently released figures on the best-selling children’s books of 2012?

Well, there are a lot of the usual suspects: Wimpy Kids, Suzanne Collins, YA series fiction. There are even some interesting no-shows, like Harry Potter, as Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes points out.

The three most interesting titles to me were:

#20 Hardcover Frontlist 
(aka it’s new in hardcover in 2012)
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

# 29 Hardcover Frontlist
Wonder by R.J. Palacio

#16 Paperback Frontlist
(aka it’s new in paper in 2012)

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

The first two are no surprise, based on my experience working in a thriving independent bookstore, Wellesley Books. Although neither Fault nor Wonder received big awards from the American Library Association, they were great sellers in 2012. Better yet, at my store at least, Fault appears to be picking up steam as we head into 2013. I’ve sold it to both adults and young adults, most of whom seem to be responding to friends’ recommendations, or word-of-mouth.

I’m totally unsurprised to see that Fault is going to become a movie in the near future, with Shailene Woodley cast as Hazel. Locally, here in the Boston area, Wonder has already been given a marathon staged reading in Newton.

What about that Sharon Draper novel? I’ll admit, Out of My Mind really did surprise me. Focusing on the life of Melody, an eleven-year-old who struggles with severe cerebral palsy, Out wasn’t on my radar. But this is one title I’ll be adding to my reading list.

What are your thoughts? Any books you’re surprised to see—or thought you would see, but didn’t?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Celebrate Caldecott’s Birthday with a Non-Winner

As we move full steam ahead into 2013 and the 75th Birthday Celebration of the Caldecott Medal, it’s worth taking a moment to remember one of the best picture books NOT to win the award.

Wanda Gàg’s Millions of Cats came out during the Great Depression, a few short years before the Caldecott Medal was born. There being no picture book award at the time, Cats won only a Newbery Honor.

What’s so special about this non-winner?

On the surface, the black and white illustrations may look dated, the hand-lettered text harkening back to a long-gone era. But Cats was revolutionary. It helped us see the picture book in new ways. Anita Silvey sums up the impact of Wanda Gàg’s work in her delightful Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac entry: “In one title, she basically invented the American picture book.”

Not only did Gàg use the two-page spread to move the action,
she also sometimes wrapped text around the art.
Few artists before Gàg considered how they could use the two-page spread to effectively propel the narrative through the art. Even Gàg’s pencil-sketched art dummy for Cats, part of the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, is packed with forward-moving energy.

Gàg uses repetition in the text to draw readers in and build to a crescendo:

Hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats!

Gàg learned English in grade school in New Ulm, Minnesota, but she learned it well. As the oldest of seven children, she carried throughout her life a deep respect for her young readers. Before Cats was published, she read it aloud to children, making changes when needed so that the text would grab her audience. 

(Take a look at YouTube to see how the book works as a read aloud, and you’ll see that Gàg’s research paid off.)

The hand-written text reflects Gàg’s unusual care and concern over every aspect of the book. Gàg couldn’t find a typeface that worked with the line-weight and texture of her illustrations, so she had her younger brother painstakingly draw the words to her own precise instructions.

The final package is small and precious. Millions of Cats has continuously been in print since its publication.

Her life reads like a novel,
so this Gàg biography was a joy to write!
Full disclosure: I’ve loved Cats since I was little, but I grew to appreciate Wanda Gàg and her revolutionary approach to picture books while writing the book Wanda Gàg: Storybook Artist for the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Later, I was one of many to nominate Gàg to the MN150, a list of 150 important Minnesotans who shaped the state.

No doubt about it, she and her Millions of Cats are winners.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Nonfiction Roundup

The most recent bag of new nonfiction for young readers contains some real gems. Here are a few to seek out and share:

Look Up! Bird-watching in Your Own Backyard, written and illustrated by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick, 2013).
This is a great beginner’s guide to bird-watching (for folks of all ages), with funny cartoon-style illustrations and tons of useful information. You’ll find more than just info on birds here: Cate also offers a clear, straightforward, and humorous visual explanation of classification. This book has it all.

A Little Book of Sloth, written and photographed by Lucy Cooke (McElderry Books, 2013).
Sloths may not move very quickly, but they’ll capture your heart if you dare to open this book. While it’s lighter on facts than Look Up!, this title is heavy on cute. Cooke profiles sloths living at a Costa Rican sloth sanctuary, including tidbits on habitat, habits, digestion, and diet. But the photogenic sloths steal the show. “Mateo is so cute,” Cooke tells readers, “he should come with a public health warning.” So, for that matter, should the book.

Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia (Putnam, 2013).
No roundup of nonfiction books would be complete without something about boys who knit, right? Hopkinson offers a historical fictional picture book about a boy who learns to knit in order to send warm socks to the troops. The story is fun, but the best bits are in the author’s afterword, where she reprints lines from a 1918 song for Seattle schoolboys:

Johnnie, get your yarn, get your yarn, get your yarn;
Knitting has a charm, has a charm, has a charm;
See us knitting two by two,
Boys in Seattle like it too…

Well, you get the picture.  

Wild Boy by Mary Losure (Candlewick, 2013).
This new narrative nonfiction from the author of The Fairy Ring hasn’t come out yet, but I’m so eager to read it, I’ll share here a link to the trailer. Can’t wait!